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Five Fact Friday - Strange Laws

Five Fact Friday - Strange Laws

Last year, we published an article focussing on five curious English laws. Here are five more unusual and often cited unusual ‘laws’ which might or might not really exist.

1. It is illegal to stand within 100 yards of the reigning monarch without wearing socks

I had never heard of this one until recently.  No doubt the Queen would approve of this one but it doesn’t appear to be on the statute books anywhere. Some of the Tudor monarchs, specifically Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I, did pass laws which regulated clothing styles.  Notably, the Articles for the Execution of the Statutes of Apparel, passed in 1562, made it in an offence for anybody appearing at Queen Elizabeth’s court wearing a shirt with “outrageous double ruffs” or “of monstrous and outrageous greatness.”  However, there is good news for anybody who does fancy wearing such sartorially adventurous garments on their next visit to Buckingham Palace.  This law, along with most of the others regulating clothing styles, was repealed by James I.

2. It is illegal to crack a boiled egg at the sharp end

Although this sounds like something I may have made up, this law does appear in various lists of strange statutes.  Most accounts attribute it to another Tudor, Edward VI, but there is no record of it ever existing unfortunately.  Indeed, there is no record of any law relating to boiled eggs from any period of English history, although anybody familiar with Gulliver’s Travels will recall that which way to break an egg can be a contentious subject.  Interestingly, Edward VI did pass a law relating to the theft of eggs from nests and that one has never been repealed.

3. It is illegal to keep a lunatic without a licence

This has never been a law, although it could have been a misinterpretation of the Madhouses Act 1774.  That made it an offence to keep “more than one Lunatick” unless you had a licence for a madhouse.  However, it has since been repealed.

4. It is illegal to impersonate a Chelsea Pensioner

Again, this is not true although it may be a misinterpretation of the Chelsea and Kilmainham Hospitals Act 1826 which made it an offence to make a fraudulent claim to pensions that belonged to Chelsea Pensioners.  It remained on the statute books as a specific offence for over 160 years until it was repealed by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 2008, although any fraud (including laying claim to a pension that doesn’t belong to you) is an offence under the Fraud Act 2006.

5. It is illegal to damage grass

It is not true that it is illegal to damage grass but it is true that it can be illegal to damage grass.  Intentional damage to a lawn can, of course, be criminal damage.  The myth that all damage to grass is illegal probably comes from the Commons Act 1876, which makes it illegal to interfere with or disturb a town or village green.  However, the purpose of the offence was not to protect the grass from being damaged, rather to protect the use of the green. 

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